Here on this planet, Christmas will soon be upon us, and you can hardly miss seeing the image of jolly old Santa Claus. But on Discworld (a flat disc on the back of four elephants, on the back of a turtle), the end of the year is celebrated with Hogswatch, and children put out meat pies and turnips for the jolly Hogfather, who delivers presents in his sled pulled by four enormous boars. So I decided that Christmas time was the perfect time for a reread of Hogfather by Terry Pratchett.
Hogfather centers on Susan, who is trying very hard to be normal, even though she happens to be Death’s granddaughter (by adoption). She even got a job as a governess, and is determinedly proper and refined, although she does have a poker ready to hand to bash bogeyman and other monsters of childhood. But then on Hogswatch Eve, the Hogfather comes down the chimney…and despite the false beard, Susan promptly recognizes Death, who has inexplicably taken on the job. Has the old skeleton finally lost it, or is something more going on? Meanwhile, the Guild of Assassins has received a very mysterious contract, and assigned it out to Teatime (pronounced Teh-ah-tim-eh, though no one gets it right), a problematic student who makes assassins nervous.
This is one of my favorite of the Discworld Death subseries, possibly because it focuses so much on Susan. I usually enjoy Death himself best in smaller doses in otherwise-focused books; this one has plenty of Death but enough of other people too to create a nice balance.
Susan is a delightful character, who wants so much to be ordinary—but when supernatural crises arise, she rolls up her sleeves and goes to work. I always enjoy characters who do what needs to be done, because someone has to do it. Susan also provides a nice stable center amongst a wildly swirling crowd of other characters who range from bizarre to silly to downright unhinged.
Just a few of the supporting characters include the Death of Rats (a little rat skeleton in a cloak, with a size-appropriate scythe) and his friend a talking raven, who is always on the watch for some tasty carrion; a cameo by Nobby Nobs of the City Guard; the “oh god” of hangovers; and Albert, Death’s assistant and surely the ugliest and most cynical elf there ever was. There’s also a plot thread involving the wizards of Unseen University, who are not personally among my favorites (I can never keep the crowd of them straight, except for the Librarian), but they’re entertaining en masse here.
Teatime serves as a creepy villain—and when he says he’d kill someone as soon as look at them, he’s not exaggerating or being metaphorical. I’m not usually a big fan of villains who are motivated simply by being crazy, but Pratchett gives Teatime a very effective psychopathic twist that takes “evil for evil’s sake” out of cardboard cliché and into the realm of the disturbing.
Hogfather also shows Pratchett at his satiric best, whether it’s using Teatime to explore what really makes someone a monster (hint: it’s not by being a walking skeleton), and using Death’s attempt to grasp the role of Hogfather to discuss the true meaning of Christmas—er, Hogswatch. Death does not think well at all of “The Little Matchgirl” story, and takes a very cynical view of Good King Wenceslaus.
Hogfather is not exactly A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life—it’s darker, funnier and more biting, but it still gets to the spirit of the season. If you enjoy your holiday stories just a little slanted, I recommend it.
Author’s Site: http://www.terrypratchettbooks.com/
Buy it here: Hogfather